Presidential debate overshadowed by main parties' mudslinging
The ruling Democratic Party’s (DP) presidential contender Lee Jae-myung and his main opposition rival Yoon Suk-yeol of the People Power Party (PPP) squared off with dueling allegations of corruption during Monday’s televised presidential debate, with the mudslinging overshadowing their disagreement over economic issues.
The two-hour debate broadcast on MBC, which also involved Ahn Cheol-soo of the minor opposition People's Party and Sim Sang-jung of the minor progressive Justice Party, began with the candidates detailing their plans for overcoming economic difficulties stemming from the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The DP candidate promised he would fully compensate small businesses for losses suffered due to anti-disease regulations by providing emergency relief payments through extra budgets or emergency executive orders, while Yoon promised state support but also cautioned against excessive public spending.
The pair argued over the DP’s recent passage of a 16.9-trillion-won ($14.19 billion) supplementary budget bill through a parliamentary budget committee without support from the PPP on Saturday, which Lee characterized as necessary to overcome the opposition party’s boycott.
“When there is a fire, you need to put it out quickly, rather than complaining about the size of the bucket,” Lee said.
Yoon criticized the ruling party for coming up with what his party sees as providing insufficient support to small shopkeepers and business owners hit by the prolonged restrictions.
“We told the DP to persuade the government and send an extra budget of 50 trillion won, since it is the ruling party, but the government just came up with 14 trillion won,” he said, referring to the budget amount originally proposed by the government.
However, the candidates’ debate over their plans to deal with economic hardship caused by the pandemic was eclipsed when they exchanged accusations of corruption and financial malfeasance committed by their family members and associates.
Lee accused Yoon’s wife, Kim Keon-hee, of participating in stock manipulation in 2010 by Deutsch Motors, a BMW car dealer in Korea, and pressed the PPP candidate on the origins of her personal assets, worth approximately 7 billion won, given her monthly income of 2 million won.
Yoon retorted that his wife had traded in stocks around the time of the Deutsch Motors stock manipulation, but was not involved in the scheme, and that she had seen both profits and losses on her stock trades over the years. He added that his wife had already amassed “significant personal assets” before 2010.
The DP candidate also accused Yoon of being guilty of unspecified crimes, and at one point even pulled out a board with a written transcript of a recorded conversation between Kim Man-bae, the owner of a small asset management company at the center of the Daejang-dong development corruption scandal, and another unnamed individual talking about Yoon’s alleged past misdeeds.
“With the cards I hold, Yoon would die,” Kim said in a portion of the phone transcript held up by Lee at the debate.
Kim, a former reporter who interviewed Lee in 2014 when the latter was still mayor of Seongnam, Gyeonggi, has been indicted of committing breach of trust and bribery in connection with the Daejang-dong development.
His relationship with Lee gave rise to unproven suspicions that the DP candidate was behind the inclusion of Hwacheon Daeyu and its affiliates in the residential development.
Hwacheon Daeyu’s outsized profits from the project sparked a months-long probe by prosecutors into those suspected of rigging the project’s shareholder composition and profit distribution scheme to favor the previously little-known company, its affiliates and their owners.
However, Yoon was quick to return the fire at Lee, alleging that the recorded conversation also mentioned a “Lee-gate” scandal that the DP candidate had omitted from the transcript he showed debate viewers.
“I believe that recording also includes something about a ‘Lee-gate’ scandal,” Yoon retorted. “Why don’t you show that portion of the conversation, too?”
Yoon’s retort alluded to allegations of corruption by Lee’s former aide and acting president of the Seongnam Development Corporation, Yoo Dong-kyu, during the selection of investment bids for the development in Seongnam, which took off during the DP candidate’s term as mayor of the city.
Yoo has also been indicted on charges of breach of trust and bribery in the case.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]